On the afternoon of Sunday, May 21, the S.O.A.P. outreach event took place in Cherry Hill, NJ, hosted by the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
Marla Meyers of Samost JFCS opened the event, followed by Mandy Bristol-Leverett, Executive Director of NJCAHT, Chief William Monaghan and Detective John Ostermueller of Cherry Hill Police, and Dawne Lomangino-DiMauro of DreamCatcher Program. Each of these speakers provided different perspectives of how people in New Jersey work together to fight human trafficking and rescue victims of it.
Theresa Flores, survivor of sex trafficking and founder of S.O.A.P. and TraffickFree, began her presentation by sharing information of what human trafficking is and statistics of what it looks like here the US.
Theresa shared red flags that we should be aware of when identifying human trafficking’s possible victims: a child’s parents being on drugs, financial difficulties, a child raised by a single parent who may not be around enough, foster care children who move around a lot, drug usage, low self esteem, having tattoos (and possibly having a tattoo that matches other people’s tattoos), owning several hotel room keys, owning a prepaid phone card, having a lack of friends or a sudden change in friends, running away from home, dating someone much older than themselves who seems to be controlling, owning new clothes when they most likely wouldn’t be able to afford them, if someone (such as a boyfriend/girlfriend buys them a new phone), having a lot of cash on them, and having suicide attempts.
What is important to know, according to Theresa, is that to end the cycle of sex trafficking, we need to take away the demand for sex services. She shared how this cycle begins with that demand, causing someone to see it as an opportunity for business. Therefore, that person becomes the exploiter or the trafficker. They find someone to recruit or groom their target victim. Once they have the victim under control, it is easy to find customers, as they come looking for fulfillment for their demands of sex.
The way to realizing that your community is at risk for human trafficking is to think about some of the following factors: Are there extensive highways nearby? Can you find a large number of truck stops? Are you able to exit the state within two hours? Are there international borders nearby (or possibly a way of transporting out of the country easily)? Are there universities or colleges around the area? Is there a large immigrant population? Do you have military bases nearby? Can you easily find strip clubs in the area? Is it a tourist area or possibly have casinos? These are all huge signs that there is human trafficking in a state or area. Here in NJ, we have them all.
She continued to explain the actual places where children can be preyed upon by a trafficker or recruiter. One thing we may not think about, but is a new place of choice, is a public library where there are many unsupervised children and where there are plentiful computers with no censoring or limits. Other places with high risk potential for sex trafficking include malls, grocery stores, schools, movie theaters. Places with high risk for labor trafficking would be nail salons, ethnic restaurants, bus stations, agricultural work, factory work, landscaping, and more. Be aware also of rest areas, truck stops, false job ads, hotels, and ad pages online.
If a child has a facebook page, it is important to see what kind of information they are sharing to the public. 92% of them use their real names, 84% list their favorite activities and interests (which become key discussion points for traffickers when they befriend these children), 82% share their birth date, 62% share their relationship status, and 24% post videos of themselves. In regards of privacy, only 9% are “very concerned” about third parties accessing their data.
After providing all this information, Theresa went on to share her own story of survival. It was both powerful and sad. To listen to her tell it was definitely hard to hear compared to in reading her book The Slave Across the Street.
In her story, Theresa shared that S.O.A.P. was borne out of her hotel experience where she had to clean up in the bathroom in between each of the men she had to serve. She realized that placing the human trafficking hotline number on the hotel bars of soap would provide a lifeline to others in her situation. In states nationwide, teams of volunteers attend similar training and then canvas hotels and motels in the area, meeting with hotel staff to provide free labeled soap and missing children posters.
After the presentations, attendees were given instruction by the S.O.A.P. committee for their outreach to the hotels. People broke off into groups of 2 to 4, received info packets and missing child posters to take into hotels, as well as bars of soap. One thing that is interesting to learn is that there are 1.3 million missing children in the US. Broken down, that is 3,562 children per day. This information was to be used when going to a hotel worker and then asking if they recognize any of the children who are missing on the posters. Then they are asked to put the poster up in their hotel.
Theresa had shared an excellent video that we want to share with you! Please watch it.
The S.O.A.P. program is very simple but very effective. We are so thankful for this event and program. Next year it will be held in northern NJ! We hope there will be a large turn-out for it.